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The Thin Skin Of Conservative Commentators

Freedom of speech is important to Andrew Bolt and Chris Kenny. With a few exceptions, of course. That’s only reasonable. Like when that speech is mean and hurts their feelings. Then it’s a totally different story.

by Lee Zachariah
Mar 25 2014, 3:53am

Free speech is important in Australia. It’s the cornerstone of an awful lot of television shows and movies we enjoy, although most of them come from the USA, where there is a clear provision for free speech in the constitution, whereas—funny story—there’s nothing in our constitution that explicitly guarantees free speech.

And that’s why we must fight even harder for it. Brave warriors such as News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt and News Limited columnist Chris Kenny are on the front line of this battle, battling the neo-socialist, gay marriage-promoting, climate change non-denying, boat people-not-hating, latte-swilling greenies who are creeping into the outer fringes of politics in order to replace our constitutional monarchy with some sort of hemp-based product.

Freedom of speech is important to Bolt and Kenny. With a few exceptions, of course. That’s only reasonable. Like when that speech is mean and hurts their feelings. Then it’s a totally different story.

Last week, Chris Kenny wrote a piece for The Australian entitled “Why the unbearable darkness of the twitsphere has made me quit Twitter”; the latest in a long line of unreadable opinion pieces in which some sort of vaguely-recognisable media figure convinces themselves that the rest of are remotely interested in how much they do or don’t like a social medium or food product or television show.

In the article, Kenny points to Twitter’s “strong green-Left bias”, which is sort-of like claiming that phone calls skew communist, or emailing is ultra-conservative. The medium itself is at fault, says Kenny, which is an intriguing position to take when writing for The Australian.

To be fair to Kenny, it’s not actually a stretch to claim that Twitter is, like all untamed real estate in the internet age, filled with unfettered cruelty and bullying. What is a stretch—and unsupported by any evidence in Kenny’s piece outside of his own anecdotal whinge—is that it is skewed to that Dreaded Left which Kenny so desperately fears.

In truth, Kenny is unlikely to believe that a medium in which messages are delivered 140 characters at a time is inherently “green-Left”. He’s simply responding to an involuntary reflexive syllogism that goes like this: “I DISAGREE WITH THIS THING — I DISAGREE WITH GREEN-LEFT THINGS — THIS THING MUST BE GREEN-LEFT”. He does try to salvage the argument by reframing his throwing-of-the-toys-from-pram as some sort of bold defence of bullied women. If this rather improbably motive is the reason for his sudden Twitter hate, then he’s clearly had a change of heart since calling then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s accusations of sexism against Tony Abbott “shrill” and “over the top”, and claiming that Abbott couldn’t possibly be sexist because he’s married to a woman and has three woman sisters and three woman daughters. Perhaps his problem with Twitter’s inherent misogyny is actually some sort of trademark issue.

Chris Kenny is, additionally, currently engaged in a lawsuit against The Chaser and the ABC for a sketch on the election-themed comedy show The Hamster Decides in which his face was photoshopped onto a man appearing to have sex with a dog. The joke, in its original context, was purporting to defend Kenny’s ongoing criticism of the ABC by showing how crass the corporation was, essentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was up on screen for only a few seconds, and to help ensure everyone would immediately forget about it, Kenny decided to take everybody to court.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I was working on The Hamster Decides at the time, but didn’t have anything to do with the joke. Like, I was totally out of the room when it happened. In fact, I was probably at lunch, blocks and blocks away, at one of those sound proof restaurants with no mobile reception—are we clear? Okay, good.)

Meanwhile, over on the complete same side of the political spectrum, Andrew Bolt was flat-out accused of racism by a Q&A panellist who refused to cloak her comments in obvious photoshopping. Earlier this month, academic Marcia Langton accused Bolt of “racial abuse”, referencing an article in which Bolt had questioned whether “fair-skinned” Aboriginal people such as Ms Langton had exploited their backgrounds for political gains.

Bolt was so hurt by the accusation, he had to take a day off.

Langton then apologised directly to Bolt during an interview with Steve Price on 2GB.

Tony Jones then apologised on behalf of the ABC on the following week’s Q&A.

After being apologised to twice in broadcast, Bolt finally turned the other cheek. The other cheek, it turned out, was filled with even more hurt feelings (just picture a squirrel storing nuts), and he complained that the ABC’s apology didn’t go far enough.

It’s reasonable that he should be so aghast at the accusation, given he’s barely been found guilty of racism by a Federal Court. Like, only once. It was in 2011, when a judge found that Bolt’s articles about “fair-skinned” Aborigines (“It’s so hip to be black” and “White fellas in the black”, no longer available online due to the court order) had breached the Racial Discrimination Act.

The temper tantrums currently being thrown by men whose job it is to attack others on a daily basis is, at very least, providing us with the sort of tragicomic irony we used to have to rely upon Joseph Heller’s novels to provide.

So, as Bolt rails against the unfair benefits that life provides Aboriginal people with, and Kenny calls everything he disagrees with “left-leaning”, you have to take a moment to consider the plight of the true downtrodden, voiceless minority: rich broadcasters with newspaper columns and television shows who have no one to defend them.

(Well, no one except for Prime Minister Tony Abbott who, commenting on a trial still before the courts, called the Chaser’s Chris Kenny joke “defending the indefensible”. Or Attorney-General George Brandis who told Parliament that Australians have the right to be bigots, in reference to a proposed rewriting of the Racial Discrimination Act as a direct result of the Bolt verdict. But outside of the most powerful people in Australia, NO DEFENDERS.)

Because when it comes to defending free speech, it’s not the colour of the skin that matters; it’s the thickness of it.

Follow Lee on Twitter: @leezachariah